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What Other Franchises Can Learn From Cult of Chucky

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The Chucky franchise is one of horror’s most solidly enduring efforts. Not every installment is a home run, but even the weakest movie in the series has enough merit to prevent it from being written off.

It’s obvious that much of this quality springs from writer/director Don Mancini’s continued investment and participation. While Mancini shares writing credit on 1988’s Child’s Play with Tom Holland and John Lafia (for changes later made to his script), he was the sole author of every subsequent entry, taking directorial reigns beginning with 2004’s Seed of Chucky and continuing to helm every future installment.

It’s very rare for a franchise to be guided for so long by its original creator. John Carpenter, for example, is famously quoted as saying he sat down to write Halloween II and realized there was no story worth pursuing. Mancini, on the other hand, has found an almost endless trove of material to explore with every new Chucky movie. Nobody would ever accuse Child’s Play 2 and 3 as breaking new ground, but each found ways to tweak the original concept while delivering crowd-pleasing bursts of Chucky carnage. Beginning with 1998’s Bride of Chucky, however, Mancini began carving out a unique identity for every sequel while remaining faithful to the overall continuity and mythology.

Bride is a road trip relationship movie, Seed is a playful meta commentary on Hollywood’s self-absorption, while 2013’s Curse of Chucky moved the franchise into the realm of gothic horror, complete with a houseful of dark shadows and buried family secrets. Now we’re up to Cult of Chucky, which is as inspired as any installment before it. Mancini has grown as a director, channeling his inner DePalma to deliver one of the most visually assured direct-to-video features I’ve seen. And the script continues to be whip smart, toying with the psychology of its protagonist (who has been committed to an asylum) before adding yet another bag of tricks to our pint sized slasher’s repertoire.

Mancini’s heavy involvement in the Chucky franchise is what makes it unique. But the powers-that-be (whether we’re talking about longtime producer David Kirschner or Universal Pictures) deserve credit for allowing Mancini to explore fresh new territory each time out. These guys know they have to deliver the goods, but precisely how they do it seems up to Mancini and his creative team and that’s fantastic. When I popped Cult of Chucky into my Blu-ray player the other night, I had no idea what to expect. And that’s because the franchise is always evolving. Mancini is always keeping things fresh without sacrificing the narrative of previous films. It’s one of the many reasons fans have remained invested for thirty strong years.

Most long-running franchises have started over. Some more than once. Outside of two remakes in 2003 and 2006, every Texas Chainsaw Massacre movie positions itself as the “true” sequel to Tobe Hooper’s 1974 classic. And recent Halloween news suggests that franchise is about to take a similar route, ignoring Rob Zombie’s remakes in order to go back to John Carpenter’s timeline (ignoring every movie except the first). It wouldn’t be the first time, of course. In 1998 (the same year Bride of Chucky was released) Halloween H20 alienated many longtime fans by wiping the previous three sequels off the map.

Starting fresh must be tempting for any production. Who wants to sort through years of complicated plotlines and unresolved character arcs each time a new movie is to be made? It’s hard to say the “Chucky approach” is the right one and other instances are flat-out wrong, but Mancini’s continued respect for the past is definitely one of its appeals. The way he weaves new and old characters together in a tapestry of funhouse surprises rewards longtime attention, but never at the expense of the current story.

It’s an approach other direct-to-video franchises should consider. We’re living in an age of long-form storytelling. Netflix has conditioned millions of people to binge an entire television season in one weekend, and there’s no reason why an ongoing movie series shouldn’t function in much the same way. Of course, dormant franchises such as The Howling or Hellraiser lack their own Don Mancini, but in a perfect world perhaps they should each have their own “showrunner.” In this age of shared universe filmmaking, it seems reductive for long-running horror franchises to jump through hoops to ignore their histories (wiping out movies and stories that perhaps earned them adoring fanbases in the first place).

And while theatrical horror is undoubtably hot again, the big screen isn’t a route every sequel needs to take. If we can get more Chucky movies that will continue to build on established continuity like the foundation of a house, I’m happy to go the rest of my life without a remake. The same goes for almost any enduring horror property. If lower budgets and VOD releases means more imagination and continuity, as they do with Chucky, then let my living room be the venue for which to premiere them. I’d almost prefer it at this point.

So maybe studios should consider finding their own Don Mancinis: Voices who care and can shepherd properties that are inevitably bound to continue anyway. Cult of Chucky’s one uphill battle is that DTV movies continue to bear the stigma of being “less than” other movies. While that hasn’t been the truth for a long while, the glut of miserable DTV sequels that have flooded the market for twenty years have done precious little to reverse that stance. Right now the Chucky franchise is a diamond in that rough. But considering its ongoing reputation and reception, other studios might want to take note and consider giving their properties the same kind of TLC that Universal has afforded Chucky for so long.

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What’s Next? 5 Horror Trends We Expect Within 5 Years

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Recently I penned an article based on the last Decade of Horror. In said post, I delved into the top three films of each year spanning 2010 – 2017 and attempted to decipher what the trends were throughout our decade thus far.

To say the least, the article was insightful to write up. Witnessing trends ebb and flow and analyzing what floats to the surface time and time again was a fascinating project to take on.

With that knowledge now in my big, bald noggin, I thought it would be interesting to dive a bit into what I believe will be the “Next Big Thing” in horror. We’ve seen found footage. We’ve seen 3-D. We’ve seen it all, right? Not so much.

So here are five trends I expect to see in horror over the next five years.

Enjoy!

***


Black & White & Red All Over

The resurgence of black & white films. This is the one I can all but guarantee is on the horizon and it is going to hit in a big, bad way in the very near future. Black and white creates atmosphere in spades, and it doesn’t cost any extra money.

With films like The Eyes of My Mother and A Girl Walks Home at Night bringing the “old-fashioned” technique back to the forefront of independent cinema – and the recent killer episode of “Black Mirror: Metalhead” directed by David Slade – I believe, like cinema tends to do, there will be a step back towards a more classic era of filmmaking. And black and white horror films will be at the head of that new reverse-renaissance. Mark my words.

Netflix of Horror

A horror streaming giant will rise. Bank on it. While Shudder appears to be the frontrunner, they have yet to become a household name. Unfortunately, I think this is due to too many obscure titles. I love Shudder don’t get me wrong – and I’ve kept my subscription going for several years (as I’m sure you have) – but that said, they seem to be too concerned with horror street cred than pulling in the mainstream crowd.

That’s, of course, not a bad thing, but throw some bullshit teen horror on there and get your subscription numbers up, and Shudder will become the top spot for horror (of all kinds) on these here internets… or continue to be cool and fade away. Make your choice. Again, nothing but love, Shudder. I’d just like to see you become the Netflix of Horror you deserve to be. Someone’s going to take the title soon. I only hope it’s you.

Drone Footage

This is just what it sounds like: movies shot almost exclusively with drones. More and more low-budget filmmakers are employing drones to stunning effect, and it is only a matter of time before someone says “F*ck it” and shoots a flick completely with a drone.

And I’m not talking about found footage here by the way. I’m talking about a movie that breaks down the walls of what we call typical coverage in a film – horror or not. But considering horror is always at the forefront of innovation in the world of cinema, I think drone movies will begin in the horror genre. No more steady-cams, no more cranes, tripods, helicopters, or dolly tracks. Imagine sweeping camera moves of not only landscapes but intimated conversations as well.

Imagine we’re close on someone’s eyes, then we pull out into an over-the-shoulder, then we begin to steady-cam around them as they kiss (or kill, whatever) and then we pull back higher and higher into a glorious wide of the sun setting behind the trees. Shots like this weren’t possible (on a low budget) before drones. Get creative. Forget the rules of coverage (other than the 180 rule) and push cinema to new heights.

That said, I concede that such dialogue scenes will need to be dubbed and shadows/reflections caused by the camera will need to be monitored closely, but these are already the issues any filmmaker takes on when making a flick. One day we will get epic drone films, and they are going to be low-budget stunning on the level of mega-budget movies ala Dunkirk. I cannot wait.

Fan Films

Sooner or later all of us fans are going to get sick and tired of waiting for someone at the major studios to get off the butts and make another entry in the TCM, Friday the 13th, NOES series. With technology what it is nowadays people are going to just start making them themselves. They’ll be putting real time and effort into these films as calling cards, and they might even break the studio system this way.

Hell, we’ve already seen the start with such quality flick as the Friday the 13th fan film Never Hike Alone. And I see no reason that the films couldn’t end up being ballsier and better than anything a studio could put out.

But they can’t make money. True. But again they will function as calling cards for future filmmakers. And have you ever seen how expensive film school is? Yikes. Better to slap a hockey mask and a GoPro to your dumbass friend Brian and have him chase your little sister around the backyard. Just work your way up from there.

One-Month Movies

One-Month Movies. Or Flash Flicks. Or something like that. It’s an appealing gimmick to be sure. Filmmakers will begin making movies for all intents and purposes as fast as they possibly can. Pure creativity without overthinking the final product.

Scary prospect. But a thrilling one as well. I know I’d be up for watching what filmmakers like Adam Wingard, Mike Flanagan, and hell maybe even John Carpenter could come up within one month’s time. It’s like DIY king Robert Rodriguez once said (and I’m paraphrasing here) digital filmmaking is like a painting; you can just begin and let the mood and inspiration take over.

These “One-Month Movies” will be exciting and fresh… or utter disasters. Either way, they will be worth watching. But these films will need a platform for their releases. And once the Netflix of Horror I described above comes to grandiose fruition, then we will be seeing these films more and more. At least I hope.

***

And those are the 5 horror trends I expect to see over the next 5 years. Do you agree? Is there something you think I’ve left out? Let us know below!

Until then give the video below a quick watch. It’s simple and amateur but the (no doubt kids) behind the video have the right idea. Drones plus black & white footage, plus the score to The Shining creates killer atmosphere. Just wish the framing was a bit better. All the same, there are moments in the video that will sell these ideas to you instantly.

Enjoy?

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Brennan Went To Film School

Brennan Went to Film School: Unlocking the Hidden Meaning in Insidious: The Last Key

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“Brennan Went to Film School” is a column that proves that horror has just as much to say about the world as your average Oscar nominee. Probably more, if we’re being honest.

WARNING: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS DETAILED SPOILERS FOR INSIDIOUS: THE LAST KEY. READER DISCRETION IS ADVISED.

Blumhouse had quite a year last year, didn’t they? In addition to having three number one hits on their hands, the racial satire Get Out is their first horror entry to get awards traction thanks to its deeper themes. Now that everyone is starting to take the company and its work a little more seriously, it’s time to bring out the big guns and dive right into some deeper analysis into a much more unlikely subject: Insidious: The Last Key. The fourth entry in their tentpole haunted house franchise might not seem like it at first glance, but it’s the Get Out of the Me Too era, telling a story of women’s struggles while predicting the downfall of powerful, abusive men that started to occur during its production process with eerie accuracy.

No, seriously. Let’s start by taking a look at the villain. Unusually for this franchise, the baddies are both paranormal and human: halfway through the film it is revealed that the haunting victim who has called Lin Shaye’s Elise and her crew is also a sadistic killer who has chained up a woman in his basement. This is also revealed to be the very same thing Elise’s father did many decades before. The film implies that both men are being influenced by the key-wielding demon that inhabits the house.

Key imagery is very important to the film as a whole (I mean come on, it’s literally in the freakin’ title) and its themes of Elise arriving to her childhood home to unlock the secrets of her past. But there’s more than one meaning to that imagery, and understanding those meanings is the key to unlocking the subtext of the film, if you’ll allow me a really obvious pun.


The demon KeyFace might be influencing the men, but they’re still receptive to the idea. That’s because he’s awakening something that was already inside them. KeyFace represents the pure male id; the unconscious, animalistic desires and drives that lay buried in the psyche. He’s not forcing them to behave in this way, he’s just unlocking their darker impulses.

It’s no coincidence that the demon’s lair is the bomb shelter basement. The house has now become a road map of her father’s mind, with his strongest emotions (and the literal place where he keeps his abused women secreted away) hidden in a sublevel that isn’t visible from the surface. This is the very same basement where he locked up Elise while punishing her for insisting that her visions were real. He wanted her to keep her psychic gifts locked away, probably so she wouldn’t discover his own submerged secrets.

Elise encounters a variety of keys during her journey that allow her to penetrate deeper and deeper into The Further, the house, her past, and the hideous truth about the men in her life. These keys unlock doors, suitcases, chains, and cages, but the most important unlocks the truth… and turns the attention of the evil upon her and her two nieces.

The probing of these women ignites the fury of KeyFace and he takes her niece Melissa into the basement (another buried sublevel that must be unlocked), inserting a key into her neck and rendering her mute, then stealing her soul with a second key plunged into her heart. He is only vanquished when Elise and her other niece Imogen team together and use a family heirloom – a whistle – to summon Elise’s mother’s spirit.

On the surface, this seems like an inspiring story of three generations of women helping each other to face a great evil. This is certainly true, but now we have the key to understanding exactly what’s happening here. When a young woman discovers the abuse being perpetrated in her house, the figure of pure, wicked male desire literally steals her voice, silencing her. In order to restore that voice, another woman who knows the truth must very literally become a whistleblower.

…Did I just blow your mind?

At its heart, Insidious: The Last Key presents a world where women must rely on other women to provide them a voice and their very survival in a world dominated by powerful men and their ugly, dirty secrets. Secrets that they will do anything to keep locked away. There may be slightly more ghosts in Insidious than in real life, but that’s a frighteningly close parallel with the ugliness currently being revealed in Hollywood – as well as the world at large. It probably won’t tear up the Golden Globes next year, but this film is just the next important stepping-stone after Get Out in Blumhouse’s use of the genre to dig deep into the real life horrors plaguing our society.


Brennan Klein is a writer and podcaster who talks horror movies every chance he gets. And when you’re talking to him about something else, he’s probably thinking about horror movies. On his blog, Popcorn Culture, he is running through reviews of every slasher film of the 1980’s, and on his podcast, Scream 101, he and a non-horror nerd co-host tackle horror reviews with a new sub-genre every month!


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Why Brad Anderson’s Session 9 Scared the Hell Out of Me

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“Hello, Gordon.”

Invariably, working for sites such as Dread Central, I am always asked the question, “What is the scariest movie you have ever seen?” And, well, truth be told, movies don’t tend to scare me that often. Sure, there are my go-to flicks time and time again such as The Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity, and Lake Mungo. But sure enough, every time I spout out that list to a fellow horror fan, they always follow up with, “Well, what is the scariest movie you’ve ever seen that ISN’T found footage?” Fair enough question.

Now, while I’m not going to go into what I consider to be the scariest non-found footage horror movies (we’ll get into all of that at some later date), I do want to point out a movie in particular here today. The way it goes is that when I tell people my list of scariest non-found footage films, they always nod in agreement. Until, that is, I get to a film called Session 9. It is at that point that whomever I am talking to cocks their head to the side and says, “I’ve never heard of that one.” Which is a shame, and it happens far too often. So today I want to, yet again, give anyone and everyone who’s willing to listen the recommend.

Let’s begin with a quick rundown of the film. Session 9 was written and directed by Brad Anderson, who is a name you might recognize as the creative force behind such films as The Vanishing on 7th Street, Transsiberian, and the “Christian Bale is as skinny as a skeleton” mindfuck The Machinist.

But as good as those film may (or may not) be, without a doubt Anderson’s masterpiece is Session 9. Written specifically to be filmed inside the Danvers State Mental Hospital, the film stars David Caruso (don’t let that stop you), Peter Mullan, Josh Lucas, and a few other gents as a group of asbestos removal guys who are possibly haunted within the walls of the institute while on a job.

If that rundown isn’t the best, here is the film’s official synopsis: “A tale of terror when a group of asbestos removal workers starts work in an abandoned insane asylum. The complex of buildings looms up out of the woods like a dormant beast. Grand, imposing…abandoned, deteriorating. The residents of Danvers, Massachusetts, steer well clear of the place. But Danvers State Mental Hospital closed down for 15 years is about to receive five new visitors…”

Brrr… freaky enough, right? Well, trust me; the actual film is leaps and bounds better than even that creeper synopsis lets on. And best of all, with all horror and terror aside, the film is a tight flick about a group of men and how they interact as a team. While that may not sound too appealing, the actors – yes, even David Caruso – make for a lovable group of grumps that I enjoyed spending 90 minutes with.

Let’s talk about the horror for a second. You have to wait until the end, but once it hits (full force), it is well worth the wait. The first two thirds of the film is creepy but mostly about the men and the job. Horror looms in the background at all times, sure, but it isn’t until the final act that the shit really hits the fan. And boy, does it. The final act is as bloody as any slasher you could ever hope for and even features a fun, very cool cameo by Mr. Larry Fessenden himself. But it is the final, give or take, 30 seconds of the film that still haunts me to this day.

You see, the film is constantly playing a game of “Is it ghosts? Is it all in your head? Or is there a human element to the horror?” And that game comes to nightmarish reality in the film’s final moments. I specifically remember having fun with the film until its last frames. That was when I needed to turn the lights on. But that still didn’t help. The horrors that Session 9 presents in its final moments are horrors where there is nowhere to run, no way to prevent it from finding you in the darkness, and no way to save yourself, or your loved ones, if it finds you.

“I live in the weak and the wounded.”

Being that I am prone to being one of those dudes that lets shit bottle up inside until I explode (sad but true), this film is fucking terrifying to me. I get it. I fear it. And I hope you will too. As kids, we need cautionary tales, and let’s not forget that we as adults do too sometimes. Session 9 is a warning for grown-ups. You almost deserve it for yourself and your loved ones to see this film and allow it to sink in. Just don’t expect to sleep for a few nights…

In the end, why did Session 9 scare the hell out me so bad? Was it that voice that haunts my dreams to this day, or was it what the voice says? I’m still not sure. But trust me when I say that Brad Anderson’s Session 9 is one of the absolute scariest films I have ever seen. If you haven’t given the film its day in court yet, remedy that ASAP and thank me (or hate me) later.

You can buy Session 9 on Blu-ray HERE. And while you’re at it, make sure to check out Villmark Asylum (a similar film to Session 9) now on VOD.

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